In a recent post by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s belief blog she addresses the question of why millenials are leaving the church. She contends the church often makes the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant”.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
This focus is a mistake. She cites the appeal of more traditional liturgical expressions of the faith found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Many millenials, like herself, are drawn into these communities because:
the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic…What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
She also cites the desire for an end to church based participation in the culture wars and greater tolerance and inclusivity on LGBT issues.
If millenials are drawn to Rome and the East because of substance not style, then they want more traditional and conservative expressions of Christianity. The Catholic and Orthodox are more traditional on LBGT issues than most of their Protestant counterparts, certainly more so on participation of women in the full life and leadership of the church. They are also more authoritarian. And in the West these communions are aligning with conservative Protestants to stoke the fire of the culture wars rather than let the embers cool.
Evans, like many evangelicals also fails to take cultural trends that make things like atheism attractive seriously, as Jeffrey Tayler points out in a recent piece for the Atlantic.
The question of fidelity in the Church’s missionary, evangelistic and shepherding efforts is a crucial one. It might require more careful and reflective analysis.